Four Poets

William Wallis
A. Jay Adler
Anthony A. Lee
Mariangela Spiezia-Nobre

By Nuala Lincke-Ivic


“There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either.”  ~ Robert Graves, 1962

About poetry and being a poet, T. S. Eliot had this to say:

As things are, and as fundamentally they must always be, poetry is not a career, but a mug's game. No honest poet can ever feel quite sure of the permanent value of what he has written: He may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing.

Eliot was right, of course—even the greatest artist is often subject to self-doubt, particularly (as I have emphasized in this issue’s Letter from the Editor) when the artist does not receive meaningful acknowledgment from others regarding the worth of his or her art. So the artist who is a poet questions him- or herself (as, I’m sure, other kinds of artists question themselves): Am I wasting my time; am I creating art—or something that has no worth, indeed is not worthy to be called ‘art’?” In addition, he or she has to cope with the hard fact that poetry, no matter how wonderful, seldom results in a living wage. What Eliot contends in the quote above is, therefore, also true in a strictly pragmatic sense. Throughout time, many good—and even great—poets have not been able to turn poetry into a lucrative career, or even parlay a poem into a meal, and so much of what we accomplish in this life is appraised according to how much money it earns us. But life, like love, is full of such tragic ironies, as Alan Dugan informs us in his poem “Love Song: I and Thou”:

Nothing is plumb, level or square:
the studs are bowed, the joists
are shaky by nature, no piece fits
any other piece without a gap
or pinch, and bent nails
dance all over the surfacing
like maggots.

Ironically, a poorly conceived and badly executed (in every way imaginable) “artwork”—such as one of the many blockbuster movies produced today—may earn its key participants millions of dollars. Worthy poets—and all true artists—must be willing to accept this kind of irony, and persist in creating their artwork despite receiving no tangible rewards (i.e., money) for producing their artwork. Their consolation must be in this idea: Throughout time, and long after they no longer walk this earth, many people will appreciate, and find consolation in, their work; it will have what Eliot terms “permanent value.” After all, as Keats reminds us:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep…

And all quality art, I would argue, is beautiful. Or that’s what I believe, especially when I read a poem like “The Act” by William Carlos Williams:

There were the roses, in the rain.
Don't cut them, I pleaded.
They won't last, she said.
But they're so beautiful
where they are.
Agh, we were all beautiful once, she said,
and cut them and gave them to me
in my hand.

Why is it, then, that so many people seem not to appreciate poetry—and worse, not to read poetry? Isn’t it beautiful? Don’t they appreciate beauty? The stock answer—which is also the “true” answer, I think—is that you have to unravel a poem to discern its various meanings, and the beauty of these meanings. You have to think a lot, “[p]ut your ear down close to your soul and listen hard,” as Anne Sexton tells us. And thinking is hard work, and a lot of people do not like to work unless they receive a tangible (obvious?) reward for their work: a paycheck. That’s why a lot of people, I am convinced, pay to view schlocky (badly executed) movies: These movies require no thought. Indeed, one might argue that many of them require the absence of thought!

But of course, being a poet—like being a reader of poetry—requires a great deal of hard work, too, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Emerson’s job description of the poet—while inspiring—is nothing less than arduous, and certainly daunting:

The poet has a new thought: he [or she] has a whole new experience to unfold; he [or she] will tell us how it was with him [or her], and all men [and women] will be the richer in his [or her] fortune. For, the experience of each new age requires a new confession, and the world seems always waiting for its poet.

This job description of the poet with which Emerson provides us is the reason why we should—need—to read poetry: to hear our own thoughts, our own confessions, echoed and made clear. Poets do nothing short of helping us to make our lives coherent—and our existence meaningful.

And now "[p]ut your ear down close to your soul and listen hard” to what four contemporary poets have to say about poetry—and hear them read their poetry—in the video clips below.

Biographies of these four poets—and their poetry—may be found in this Fall 2011 issue of West.


Scott Kecken, Videographer.

What is poetry? from West Los Angeles College.

Scott Kecken, Videographer.

What is the poet's responsibility to the reader? from West Los Angeles College.

Scott Kecken, Videographer.

How should English instructors teach students who are gifted poets and writers? from West Los Angeles College.

Four Poets

wallisWilliam Wallis

One Moment More
On Your Leaving

wallisA. Jay Adler

La Habana Nueva
The World Again

wallisAnthony A. Lee

Memory of Abel
The Sermon

wallisMariangela Spiezia-Nobre

Lost in Translation